ERIE, Pa. — A Pennsylvania woman was sentenced yesterday to spend the rest of her life in prison for a bank robbery plot in which a pizza delivery driver was killed by a bomb locked around his neck, even though both she and the victim’s family claim that she is innocent and that the real killers went free.
It was a strange coda to a bizarre case with a defendant to match: 62-year-old Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, the mentally ill Erie woman sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison in the bank robbery plot that killed 46-year-old Brian Wells on Aug. 28, 2003.
Diehl-Armstrong, already in prison for a slaying two weeks before Wells’s death, has denied involvement in the plot. And Wells’s sister, Jean Heid, supported her claim before Diehl-Armstrong was sentenced.
Heid reiterated the family’s belief that Diehl-Armstrong was just a pawn and that Wells was not a coconspirator, as federal prosecutors allege. “My brother was a bomb hostage, not a bomber,’’ Heid nearly shouted in her statement to US District Judge Sean McLaughlin.
Prosecutors contend Diehl-Armstrong and others plotted to lock the bomb onto Wells’s neck, then sent him to rob a PNC Bank in neighboring Millcreek Township because Diehl-Armstrong wanted to hire her fishing buddy, Kenneth Barnes, to kill her father. According to prosecutors, they were assisted by William Rothstein, Diehl-Armstrong’s former boyfriend, who built the bomb collar using two egg timers she provided and helped force Wells — who prosecutors say may have gotten cold feet — to wear it.
Rothstein was drawn into the case when he called police in September 2003 to report having the body of James Roden, 45, in his garage freezer. Diehl-Armstrong later pleaded guilty but mentally ill to third-degree murder, and is still serving her seven- to 20-year sentence for his shotgun killing 18 days before Wells died. Assistant US Attorney Marshall Piccinini contends she killed Roden because he planned to tell authorities about the collar bomb plot.